CV signs

Conestoga Valley High School students give a hand to mental health awareness and support.

The issue of students’ mental health has been on the back burner in our public high schools for far too long. If schools are truly committed to helping students succeed, we must have candid conversations about mental health and we must provide on-site counseling for students who need it.

One in 5 young people today suffer from mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That’s equivalent to 20% of our student bodies, yet our schools are providing little to no resources. If a child has a fever or if she’ s vomiting or bleeding, our schools address it and offer help. But if a child is suffering from depression, we ignore it and hope for the best. This is a dangerous out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality.

Twenty-first-century life imposes constant stressors on today’s youth, and too many of us have no constructive way of managing it.

Teens who wish to seek help often lack the resources to do so — or they’re frightened by the perpetual stigma that surrounds mental illness. As a result, teens are fighting psychological battles all alone, for no other reason than that our schools are not providing appropriate interventions.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens and college students today, and yet a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report reveals that 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide show very clear warning signs. So why are our schools not doing a better job of identifying and addressing these signs?

If school officials suspected a student had a disease like cancer or diabetes, they’d intervene. But mental health warning signs get ignored, and therefore go untreated. The Child Mind Institute reports that 80% of youths with diagnosable anxiety and 60% of youths with diagnosable depression are not receiving any treatment whatsoever.

To make matters worse, the American Counseling Association found that 78% of students who committed school shootings had a history of suicidal thoughts. Making mental health services easily accessible in our schools would not only benefit those struggling with mental illnesses, but ensure a safer school environment for all students and faculty.

Granted, our schools provide traditional guidance counselors, but they are not equipped to assist students with long-term mental health. Their expertise is providing academic and career aid.

In order to carry out its mandate to prepare young people for the challenges of life, our schools must provide licensed mental health experts (yes, plural) on-site so that students have accessible, affordable ways of seeking treatment. We will never be prepared for our futures if we are unable to proactively address our stressors or manage our emotional and mental health.

Melissa Atanasio is in grade 12 at Garden Spot High School.